A Renaissance

Out of the night that covers me,

black as pit from pole to pole,

I thank whatever gods may be

for my unconquerable soul.

I’ve taken a hiatus from writing. In fact over the last eighteen months I’ve given up a lot of things: socializing, friendships, shaving, hair cuts, washing, and hope, to name a few. But out of chaos comes order.

To give this some context it’s important to understand that I’m still living in rural Thailand, where at present we are suffering our worst Covid outbreak so far. Each day I read the deaths and infections statistics as if they were the scores of yesterday’s cricket matches. I read the statistics in my head in the voice of Richie Benaud: “Twenty four thousand infections for the loss of only a hundred and fifty lives, a good day for the doctors there.” Invariably this is followed by: thirty five thousand infections for three hundred dead, and Richie adding, “doctors pay the price for maintaining an undisciplined line and length”.

Over the course of the past two years I’ve become desensitized to death. It’s only natural that we all take life for granted, and it’s easy to be blasé about death, especially when it’s not your own. This is what it means to be desensitized.

I’ve found it tiring to read the the endless line graphs put out by the media. At present Thailand’s has a profile resembling a billionaire rocketing into space, but it’s easy to forget that these lines actually represent people’s lives, and more tellingly deaths. Over time the numbers gradually lose their meaning, figures being afforded a casual glance in the same way I might check the weather forecast before going to work. Except I no longer go to work, haven’t set foot inside a classroom since February.

At least Sisyphus could see the rock and the hill. The objectives of teaching online are less clear and equally futile.

Online teaching is a Sisyphean task, that’s to say, in that it’s a complete waste of time. People are quick to remind me that, it’s better than nothing. That might be the case, but how much better than nothing has yet to be proven. I’ve often pondered whether a scrupulous teacher would even participate in the online façade. Belarussian psychologist, Lev Vygotsky has been the golden boy of educational psychology for the last forty years. The central theme of his educational theory is that students learn best in social settings. Students do an enormous amount of their learning when talking with one another, clarifying and reinforcing their understanding through informal discussions. And to be honest with you, online teaching doesn’t facilitate this essential part of learning anywhere near adequately.

The other day my students told me they were worried about the future. I told them that there’s no point in worrying, it’s not going to last that long.

I’ve not set foot in a classroom since February. I love to teach. The best part of my day, maybe even my life, has been standing in front of my students and trying to get them to understand something new. Teaching is an interpersonal activity, treating each student according to what motivates them best. It’s immensely challenging, physically demanding, and it’s the best job in the world. And I miss it. And I want to be back with my students.

I’ve not written anything because I’ve been unable to make any sense of the past eighteen months. Do facemasks work? Can you get reinfected? Which vaccine works best? How long should I wait between my first and second jab? can you mix vaccines? What is a high viral load? In the Greek alphabet what letter comes after Delta? Do children need to be vaccinated? What is the r number? Do lockdowns work? Is it possible to teach online? Will there be a shortage of toilet paper? Has the idea of foreign travel been shelved? Are airplanes still flying? Do I have any underlying medical conditions? How many people am I allowed in my support bubble? What if I don’t have enough friends to form a support bubble, should I advertise on Craig’s List? The chaos of Covid follows on from Trump and Brexit, both of which I found to be riddles, wrapped in mystery, inside an enigma. So all told, I’ve been confused for at least the last five years.

One thing I am fairly sure we have learned from this is that we all need to think very seriously before eating anymore bats.